In Mansfield Park, Fanny’s sailor-brother William brings her a “very pretty amber cross” from Sicily. He had wanted to buy her a gold chain too, but could not afford it. Fanny wears it on a bit of ribbon, but when their uncle plans a ball in her honor, she is not sure that a ribbon would be allowable. But not to wear the cross at all might mortify her brother. Miss Crawford offers her a necklace to wear it on. She is really tricking Fanny into accepting a gift from her brother, Henry, however, and Fanny feels uneasy about the gift. “On reaching home Fanny went immediately upstairs to deposit this unexpected acquisition, this doubtful good of a necklace,” and finds her cousin Edmund there. He tells her, “I … beg your acceptance of this little trifle — a chain for William’s cross. … I hope you will like the chain itself, Fanny. I endeavoured to consult the simplicity of your taste; but, at any rate, I know you will be kind to my intentions, and consider it, as it really is, a token of the love of one of your oldest friends.” Fanny opens the package and finds “a plain gold chain, perfectly simple and neat” and she bursts forth, “Oh, this is beautiful indeed! This is the very thing, precisely what I wished for! This is the only ornament I have ever had a desire to possess. It will exactly suit my cross. They must and shall be worn together.” When he hears about Miss Crawford’s gift, Edmund advises Fanny to wear that to the ball and save his chain for other occasions. However, when Fanny dresses for the ball and
she came to the necklaces again, her good fortune seemed complete, for upon trial the one given her by Miss Crawford would by no means go through the ring of the cross. She had, to oblige Edmund, resolved to wear it; but it was too large for the purpose. His, therefore, must be worn; and having, with delightful feelings, joined the chain and the cross — those memorials of the two most beloved of her heart, those dearest tokens so formed for each other by everything real and imaginary — and put them round her neck, and seen and felt how full of William and Edmund they were, she was able, without an effort, to resolve on wearing Miss Crawford’s necklace too. She acknowledged it to be right. Miss Crawford had a claim; and when it was no longer to encroach on, to interfere with the stronger claims, the truer kindness of another, she could do her justice even with pleasure to herself. (Ch. 27)
The story of Fanny’s cross is beautifully detailed. It is probable that Jane Austen got the idea for it from a gift from her own sailor-brother, Charles Austen. Charles was the youngest Austen child — the only one younger than Jane. In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen calls him “[o]ur own particular little brother” (January 21, 1799). In 1801, Jane wrote to Cassandra,
Charles … has received 30£. for his share of the privateer, and expects 10£. more; but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his sisters? He has been buying gold chains and topaze crosses for us. He must be well scolded. The “Endymion” has already received orders for taking troops to Egypt, which I should not like at all if I did not trust to Charles being removed from her somehow or other before she sails. He knows nothing of his own destination, he says, but desires me to write directly, as the “Endymion” will probably sail in three or four days. He will receive my yesterday’s letter, and I shall write again by this post to thank and reproach him. We shall be unbearably fine.
In the illustration, the cross Charles gave to Cassandra is on the left and Jane’s is on the right. Charles was not Jane Austen’s only sailor-brother. Francis Austen also went to sea and eventually rose to the position of Admiral of the Fleet. Jane Austen wrote to him in July 1813, asking his permission to mention some of his ships in Mansfield Park:
You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S&S is sold … I have now therefore written myself into £250. — which only makes me long for more. I have something in hand — which I hope on the credit of P. & P. will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining. And by the bye — shall you object to my mentioning the Elephant in it, & two or three other of your old Ships? — I have done it, but it shall not stay, to make you angry. — They are only just mentioned.
A couple months later, Jane Austen again wrote to him, thanking him for his “kind consent to my application”. The ships mentioned in Mansfield Park are the Cleopatra, Elephant, and Endymion.
Fanny’s chain holds such a significant place in the novel that it was used by Coralie Bickford-Smith as a motif on a 2011 hardback edition of Mansfield Park, published as part of Penguin’s Clothbound Classics series. It was used again along with her cross to ornament the lovely cover of the 2012 paperback Penguin English Library edition of Mansfield Park.